Reginald Rose's famous teleplay "Twelve Angry Men" was made into an equally famous 1957 movie starring Henry Fonda before once again becoming a teleplay in 1997, directed by William Friedkin, followed a few years ago by a Broadway revival. Its latest incarnation, "12," is no doubt its strangest: A two-hour-and-40-minute reworking by veteran Russian writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov, who also appears as an actor.
The first, and perhaps last, thing to be said about "12" is that it is very Russian indeed. The drama takes place almost entirely inside a high school gymnasium doubling as a jury room. Twelve men are deliberating the fate of a Chechen boy accused of murdering his stepfather, and, in the beginning, all but one of them is convinced he's guilty. Slowly, doubts arise as one by one the men go from angry to angrier to calmer to cooled-out.
Each man gets to deliver a powerhouse aria about his lifetime of travails – this is the very Russian part. At times I felt as if I was trapped in a Moscow Art Theater marathon. No doubt much of what transpires in that auditorium will be lost on non-Russian viewers, since so many of the grievances are rooted in nationalistic agonies. If this movie is any indication, Chechens are held in about as much esteem in Russia as mules – maybe less. Capitalist corruption, as well as every other kind of corruption, is rife. So is anti-Semitism, racism, and vodka swilling. It's all bit wearying, especially at close to three hours. I haven't heard this much shouting in a movie since the first hour of "Full Metal Jacket." Grade: C+ (Rated PG-13 for violent images, disturbing content, thematic material, brief sexual and drug references, and smoking.)